Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Brit Milah - Yehudah Feldman Makes His Grand Entrance

An occasion for great simcha (joy) is the bris and naming of a new male child. It is said that the day a child is born is the day that G-d decided the world could no longer continue without him/her. Mazel tov to the Feldman family, am yisrael is alive and well!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Ari Fuld Rally

Ari Fuld was an American Israeli. He was a settler in Judea who was stabbed in the back by a Palestinian terrorist, and Ari subsequently shot him dead before his own life ended. He was intelligent and articulate, and we should be proud that our Jewish youth can look up to him as a role model.

There was a rally for school students on Wednesday, October 18th held on Second Avenue in front of the Israeli Embassy. Rabbi Avi Weiss and the Israeli consul Danny Dayon were the speakers. But it was the students who were the stars.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Bar Mitzvah Boy

A Jewish boy's bar mitzvah marks his coming of age. Although there is a ritual associated with it - putting on tefillin and a tallis, and being called to the torah for the first time - no ritual is actually necessary for it to be effected. It simply happens on the anniversary in the Jewish calendar of his birth. The rituals however, are a reason for celebration and simcha for the parents.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Hashanah Rabbah - 2018

Sukkat is a festival of joy. After Rosh Hashanah - when we ask G-d to forgive our sins by inscribing us in the Book of Life, and after Yom Kippur - when the inscription is sealed, Sukkat is the celebration of G-d's forgiveness (we hope). Hashanah Rabbah is the final day of Sukkat when we receive the final dispensation for the coming year. We say special prayers while holding and waving the lulav and esrog, and we parade around the torah scrolls. There's two more days (in Israel the same day) to celebrate and eat festive meals - Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah - and then we settle back  to normalcy for a while.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Teshuva - The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy

The Thirteen Attributes of Compassion (or as they are often called Mercy) as outlined in the biblical book of Exodus 34:6-7, are intimately tied into the spirituality of the Hebrew month of Elul and the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and by extension the whole concept of teshuvah. They are never recited by an individual, but only as part of a minyan. When Moses ascended Mount Sinai to pray to G-d for forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d revealed them to Moses, telling him that Jews can receive forgiveness through teshuvah by reciting them at the appointed times during the year.

There is some disagreement regarding the words and phrases of the various attributes. Some seem either identical or very similar. They apply to all sorts of people with varying degrees of merit so there are a multitude of shades and nuances.

The number thirteen is significant. The Hebrew word Echad - which means Unity , when spelled out in Hebrew letters, totals thirteen in the gematria system indicating that even though there are thirteen attributes, G-d's unity is perfect. He is One. These attributes of mercy play an integral part in the chassidic parable of the King (G-d) who goes from his Castle (Heaven) out into the field (the reality of our material world) to greet his subjects (the Jews) and encourage them to come to Him. They do not, however, actually motivate man's divine service. They only generate the potential for it.

The thirteen attributes are:
(1) HaShem - G-d's name indicating Mercy before sin
(2) HaShem - Mercy after sin
(3) Keil - another of G-d's names indicating Strength
(4) Rachum - Compassionate
(5) v'Chanun - Gracious
(6) Erech Appayim - Slow to anger
(7) v'Rav Chesed - Abundant in Kindness
(8) v'Emet - Trustworthy
(9) Notzer Chesed La'alafim - Preserver of Kindness for thousands [of generations]
(10) Noser Avon - Forgiver of iniquity
(11) vaFesha - Forgiver of willful sin
(12) v'Chata'ah - Forgiver of careless sin
(13) v'Nakkeh - Aquitter  of all sins of those sincerely repentant.

Following is a set of photos taken during the Havdalah ritual at the end of Shabbat on September 8th.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Teshuvah - The Shofar

The first day, Rosh Chodesh, of the Hebrew month of Elul - and by extension the entire month of Elul  - is the time for spiritual stock-taking. There is a set of prayers - called selichot - recited during the month which is symbolic of a Jew washing his vessel - his soul - with the tears that he sheds over the state of his spiritual life. The avodah - the prayers of Rosh Hashanah that are recited - repair the vessel through the Jew's acceptance of the yoke of heaven - kabbalah ol, and repentance - teshuvah.

The sounding of the shofar is the call for the time of teshuvah. Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneerson, the fifth Chabad Rebbe, in a treatise (in Hebrew called a ma'amar), delivered on the second night of Rosh Hashanah 5659 (1898), talked about the various calls of the shofar: they mimic a human cry to awaken a person to cry out to G-d for repentance. They are: tekiah - a long, resounding blast; shevarim - three shorter blasts; and teruah - nine very short sounds.  They correspond to the types of cries of the penitent. The Rebbe describes tekiah as 'a simple sound, an inner cry from the depths of the heart, which is produced by [deep].... distress.' Teruah is described, by Torah sage Rashi, as 'one who groans from his heart in the manner of the sick who prolong their groan'; and alternately as 'one who weeps and laments with short, close sounds.' To accommodate both sounds, the shevarim-teruah is sounded consisting of three medium-length sounds (groaning) followed by nine shorter sounds (weeping). The most recent Rebbe - Menachem Mendel Schneerson - describes shevarim-teruah as 'groaning and weeping sounds, when the distress reaches even deeper into a person's soul, giving him no respite at all, to the point where he is unable to catch his breath even to utter a simple cry; he can only groan and weep, in short broken sobs.'

The shofar is sounded for the entire month of Elul in preparation for the holy day of Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the recognition of the day that Adam was created. In the words of the Chabad Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 'The sound of the shofar is an inner sound that emanates from the innermost dimension of the heart.' It is so powerful that it cannot find expression in words or thought. Because it's significance comes from so deep inside the essence of man, 'the G-dly influence evoked by the shofar is from the inner dimension and essence of the Or Ein Sof (the most elevated G-dly light).'

The sounding of the shofar, which is a hollowed out ram's horn, is connected to Divine pleasure. Through the physical action of blowing the horn and creating the sounds G-d's essential will and pleasure are expressed.

In a stiebel (a small synagogue) on East Broadway in Manhattan:

Drilling a hole to make a shofar from a ram's horn:

At the Chai Center Chabad house in Short Hills, New Jersey:

After making a shofar, it's fun to actually blow into it. Very difficult to make a reasonable sound:

Girls do it too:

Friday, August 17, 2018

Teshuvah - Repentance and Return

Teshuvah, a Hebrew word meaning both repentance and return, is loaded with meaning and significance in the lexicon of chassidut. It may be best understood within the context of spiritual searching. The third Lubavitch Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedech, said that true teshuvah means to return to G-d, to be close to him through reciting the Shema prayer and performing mitzvot. He taught that G-d sends us hardships to cleanse us of our sins, and that they should be received with true affection because their purpose is our benefit.

There are two phases of teshuvah: 1) there is remorse over what has been done and 2) commitment to act differently in the future. These are intimately connected. The only test of sincere remorse is the subsequent commitment to a better way of life. To be contrite about the past without changing one's behavior is a hollow gesture. It is this change in behavior that elevates a person committed to teshuvah. A tzaddikchassidut explains - a totally righteous person, cannot, in his relationship to G-d, stand where a penitent stands because a person who has fallen so low and sinned, when he repents rises much farther and higher than a tzaddik ever could without sinning.

This month of Elul, as it leads up to the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is a time of introspection and stock-taking. All the portions of the Torah read during the four Shabbats of this month refer either explicitly or implicitly to this practice. They talk of the establishment of cities - that serve in space what the month of Elul does in time - as a refuge for sinners, a protected sanctuary in which a man can turn from the shortcomings of his past and dedicate himself to a new and sanctified future.

Yet, even in the unlikely case where one has never disobeyed G-d's will, he may not have done all within his power to draw closer to G-d. This is the task of the month of Elul: a time of self-examination when each person must ask himself whether what he has achieved was all he could have achieved.

The Torah and the First Temple were a gift from G-d to the Jewish people which represented a time of innate holiness - when G-d took the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and the symbolic redemption from sin which the biblical land of Egypt represented. The Second Temple belonged to a time of repentance and return: spiritually from the exile - caused by the sins of the Jews in their homeland of Israel which precipitated the destruction of the First Temple - and physically from Babylon to Israel and Jerusalem. With that return the world was being sanctified from within through Israel's own spiritual resources. The two temples each had their own distinctive virtue. The revelations of G-d's presence which belonged to the first were greater, but those of the second were more inward. The greatness of the Second Temple lay in its size (space) and its duration (time). It drew its sanctity not from G-d as he is above space and time but rather from man's own efforts to purify his finite world.

Tachanun Prayer at the Roumanian American Congregation, Rivington Street, NYC:

Shopping for a Shofar: